First, let me apologize to the staff of this site for not producing as much content as I should. Studying engineering means my life is largely dominated by equations and numbers – sometimes it’s nice to take a break and wax poetic about something as simple as a football game, but July just isn’t always a great time to do so. The offseason has become a time for wearied fans to jockey over which program holds the ethical high ground over their foes or for perpetually-aggrieved Ohioans to write scathing articles about 17 year-old kids’ social-media habits. Despite all of that, Michigan Football stays on the brain.
The current state of affairs isn’t great; 7-6 in 2013 after 11-2 and 8-5 seasons in the previous two years, all while our rivals have enjoyed unprecedented success. Ohio State is 24-2 since the hiring of Urban Meyer and MSU reached their first Rose Bowl since 1988 and only second since 1966(!). Although I believe Brady Hoke’s “failures” have been largely overblown, Dave Brandon’s have not. John U. Bacon said it best:
After the 2013 Notre Dame game, Brandon said, “You’re a 17-18 year old kid watching the largest crowd in the history of college football with airplanes flying over and Beyonce introducing your halftime show? That’s a pretty powerful message about what Michigan is all about, and that’s our job to send that message.”
Is that really what Michigan is all about? Fly-overs, blaring rock music, and Beyonce? Beyonce is to Michigan football what Bo Schembechler is to — well, Beyonce. No, Michigan is all about lifelong fans who’ve been coming together for decades to leave a bit of the modern world behind – and the incessant marketing that comes with it – and share an authentic experience fueled by the passion of the team, the band and the students. That’s it.
In his speeches, Brandon often mentions he was the CEO of three Fortune 500 companies. Then why doesn’t he know his customers, and what they want?
The point is that, in regards to football, we’ve seen better days in Ann Arbor. Despite all of it, I’m not yet burnt out and sure as hell not yet finding a more rational hobby.
Monday morning, before I drove back to Ann Arbor to begin summer classes, I woke up thinking about Michigan Football. I thought about how I’m bummed that a good friend’s wedding will end my personal Big House attendance streak this fall (even if I’d do anything for the guy). Then I sent my girlfriend (who just graduated from Michigan this spring) a text gauging her interest in travelling to Evanston for the Northwestern game in November – I have to make up for my streak’s end, of course. I thought about the trip my uncle and I have planned in September to see the final chapter of our rivalry with Notre Dame. And I thought about how following this program is essentially a religion; something I’ll always do, for better or for worse. At 21, attending the University of Michigan is my greatest achievement and certainly the one I’m most proud of. That means this is the one and only athletic program that I’ll ever have a tangible relationship with – it’s just different. When Shane Victorino crushed a grand slam deep into the Boston night in game six of last season’s ALCS, I was upset, sure. But it was maybe a sixteenth of the emotional wreckage that was sitting in the upper deck of Beaver Stadium last October when Brendan Gibbons missed that infamous kick in overtime. It’s different. It always will be.
The overriding thesis I’m trying to get across here is that, yes, I care about this program dearly, and yes, there is a lot wrong with it. But because Michigan hasn’t played the brand of football that has met our expectations in five of the last six years doesn’t mean that I should demand they win now or make wholesale changes – it means the opposite.
The college football offseason is so full of nauseating hyperbole that one is led to believe that each and every move a program makes is absolutely pivotal for the team’s future. Suddenly that five-star defensive end is “the most important recruit in program history” or a disappointing season means that “this program’s status as elite is in serious jeopardy; it’s time for questions to be answered.” For a long-time, I was guilty of buying into this, too. But when you can step back and realize that maybe missing on Dee Hart wasn’t a mortal blow to our program after all or that 7-6 in 2013 doesn’t mean “the temperature is unquestionably rising on the seat of Brady Hoke,” the experience honestly becomes a lot more enjoyable.
I had the good fortunate of talking to Marlin Jackson a few months ago. There were two main takeaways that I took from our conversation: a.) Marlin is an exceptional person and I’m damn proud that he and I will soon share an alma mater, and b.) He echoed the sentiment that we have heard other former ‘M’ greats make: he believes that Brady Hoke is The Guy and he badly wants to see him succeed here.
At this stage of my relationship with this program, I’m ready to be patient, because I genuinely believe the right people are in place and that soon, Michigan will be Michigan again.
Brady Hoke isn’t an offensive innovator or a schematic guru nor can he change the missteps of the coaches before him that led to our situation today. But legitimate championship-caliber coordinators surround him and he’s willing to make necessary changes when it’s apparent they need to be made. He loves Michigan, like I do, and like you do, and I can guarantee you he’s going to do everything he can to win consistently. He wants to be here for another ten years and he wants to beat Urban Meyer every single year.
Even the most-pessimistic Michigan fans can take solace in this: soon that sea of maize will flow down Hoover St. and into Michigan Stadium for the 2014 opener. Soon, our questions will be answered and we’ll know if we really do have The Guy. But until then, I’ll follow Bo’s advice and “keep believing.”